Well, I don’t know about you, but around these parts it’s been kind of a rough week. I won’t go into the particulars, because what’s done is done, but I will suggest that now is the time, if you’ve been feeling a little down, to re-motivate yourself in a positive direction.
None of you will be surprised that the way I try to lift my spirits is through music. And while you might have felt more mournful than celebratory over the last seven days, I would suggest that it’s time for the mourning period to be over. Quit your bitchin’ and get to work. Continue reading
I’ve often joked that if I managed to make it to Heaven, I’d want my own horn section whose job would be to follow me around and punctuate my conversation with James Brown-style R&B call-and-response awesomeness.
More realistically, I’m constantly on the lookout for new bands that reach back to that classic soul sound and drag it (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the 21st century. Some bands try, succeed a little, then peter out (I’m looking at you, Red Hot Chili Peppers), while others, like Sonny Knight and the Lakers, do right by the Godfather of Soul. Continue reading
It’s almost back to school time here in southeastern Pennsylvania, which means the kids will be terminating their summer brain dumps, rushing to catch up on assigned reading and trying to remember how to convert improper fractions to mixed numbers. That usually means time for the grownups to start getting their acts together, too.
I admit that I’ve slacked off this summer in a few areas – writing every day being one of the biggest. But where spring has always been the traditional time of renewal for nature, back to school time is, for kids and adults, typically the start of something fresh. It’s an opportunity to establish new routines and actually stick to them because so many other scheduled events depend on things running smoothly.
Yeah, this summer my word count for Novel #2 has fallen off, but I’ve also gotten the chance to do some things that will help make that book better even though I’ve spent a few weeks not actively banging away at it. One of those weeks was spent at our family’s own summer place, this one deviating from past years by switching the Outer Banks of North Carolina for Folly Beach, S.C.
New places equal new inspiration, so in lots of respects it was a worthwhile trip. I’m hoping it ends up as a salable travel story for the freelance writing side of my work, and there are always little details I can pick up from somewhere new to add into a story. Plus, as someone who sets his books in South Carolina but is based full time in Pennsylvania, it’s good to get back once in a while and get in touch with the people you’re writing about.
It’s also been good to go down some roads in my own reading that I don’t often travel. I tilted more toward the fantasy side of things with Fran Wilde’s Updraft and delved into the world of the Mafia – particularly as it relates to Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. – in Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses (look for an upcoming story on Charles and the forthcoming film version of his book in September’s Out & About magazine).
Novel #2 includes more of a criminal enterprise subplot, so it was great to read Brandt’s book and get a window into mob life beyond that provided in the Mafia film pantheon of The Godfather, Goodfellas, etc. And it’s always interesting to see what styles other writers adapt. Wilde’s is lean and tight, which keeps her sprawling, world-building tale to a reasonable and accessible length. While I’m not creating new universes out of whole cloth this time around, I’m trying to keep things leaner myself, so reading other writers who can do so is a bit like taking a master class in how it’s done.
So, here’s to parlaying my non-writing experiences and unassigned summer reading into some good, solid work on Novel #2 once everyone in the house gets back to their school year schedules. It might not be lounging on the beach or by the pool, but there will be plenty of that again next year.
Scattered across the Interwebs you’ll see a profusion of lame nostalgia from folks who maintain that their childhoods were the most idyllic and utterly perfect because of our borderline neglectful parents, helmetless Big Wheel obstacle courses, afternoons binging on ’60s TV sitcom reruns, hours of Atari and gallons of fully sugared Kool-Aid.
I decline to wax rhapsodic about days past because nostalgia gets us absolutely nowhere as human beings. Nothing was ever as good as you remember it, and the examples people so enthusiastically offer up as “better times” are just the highlights they remember fondly. Mixed in with those amazing examples of freedom and adventure were those days where we said, “I’m bored” one too many times and our moms just locked us out of the house. Continue reading
With the new year, lots of folks cast their minds to a life change. For many, that change involves leaving the 9-to-5 working world and becoming a freelancer.
A while back, I was supervising my son at a birthday party for one of his elementary school classmates. The birthday boy’s father and I got to chatting about work, as dads often do in social situations, and he revealed that he was an engineer. He asked what I did, and I told him I was a freelance writer. When he probed for details, I shared my relatively flexible, work-from-home lifestyle as his eyes widened in awe.
“Oh, man! You’re living the dream!”
I demurred, as I often do when confronted with others’ disbelief, because I know in my heart that as good as freelancing sounds to people who don’t do it, it can have some pretty big ups and downs for those of us who make a living without being tethered to a single employer.
Sometimes I’m asked what the “secret” to a freelance career is. Truth: There is no secret. But there are a few commonsense steps you can take to prepare yourself if you’re seriously considering breaking free of the corporate cubical farm and going out on your own. Here, then, are my five things to do before you become a freelancer. Continue reading
Call me an overachiever.
It’s not enough for me to just imagine characters and settings and plot and all the tasty ingredients that typically go into a novel. No, I’ve got to go the extra mile and imagine what those characters are listening to, what music might be playing the background of a given scene and what songs would accompany the film version of the story that I spend years imagining in my head.
And yes, I do it all for you, my beloved readers.
OK, not really. The fact is, I can’t help it. I’m an annoying hipster’s worth of musical knowledge packed into the body of a middle-aged prepster. The combination of the words and the music is just there, and there’s really not much I can do about it. Continue reading
As of today, I’ve spent 47 years roaming this earth (or at least various parts of the United States) with the rest of you, trying to figure out how this life thing is supposed to work.
And here’s a little something I’ve learned along the way:
If there’s something that you’re good at, something at which you excel and that brings you pleasure or joy to others, you are obligated as a human being to pursue it. You might not get paid for it or even get much recognition by others who do it. But your proficiency at this thing and the joy it brings you are the gifts you have been given as a member of the human race. Whether you see it as having come from a divine source or simply from a combination of evolution, heredity and life experience, it’s one of the biggest qualities of being human that sets us apart from chimpanzees and bonobos. Continue reading
Summer music is a genre unto its own, and can’t be easily qualified or quantified as a particular “type.” But I’ll give it a shot.
Bright, breezy, pop or soul that doesn’t drag you down with burdensome weight. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have some guitar crunch and (maybe) a message. You just don’t want it slapping you upside the head and harshing that sweet beach or pool vibe you’ve got going on.
I’ve written here before about my own early music history, and how much of my taste (and career choices … and romantic history) was likely influenced by spending summers by the community pool in my Summerville, S.C., subdivision circa 1978 and ’79 listening to WTMA, the Charleston AM Top 40 station.
Songs like “Cruel to Be Kind,” by Nick Lowe, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” by Joe Jackson, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, “Let’s Go” by the Cars, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra, “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick, and “My Sharona” by the Knack burned themselves into my preteen consciousness. Continue reading